Carolyn Ferguson is the woman behind Belle Epicurean's delicate, indulgent pastries, which are some of the very best in the city. Her bakery, now celebrating its 5th year, is tucked into the Fairmont Olympic Hotel downtown. This little shop, which Ferguson runs with her husband, Howard, serves both sweet and savory baked goods, from classic pecan brioche buns and chocolate walnut croissants to more savory rosemary and potato brioche. Her overwhelmingly tempting bakery counter is a destination both for tourists and dedicated local fans. Here is the first in a three-part series, in which we talk with Ferguson about her bakery, how she came to be here, and her plans for the future.
Ferguson: I, at a very young age, felt a passion for the culinary arts. Loved it. My parents insisted that I get a legitimate degree, bachelor of arts, at least, before I went to culinary school. A hotel restaurant manager degree. I worked around in restaurants. The Westin Hotel, it was way too big, too overwhelming, but it was really good experience. Then I went onto Le Cordon Bleu, in Paris, studied the cuisine, the pastry. I came back with this love of all things French. Howard and I, we opened a restaurant in New Orleans, Maison Bleu. It was French, it was great. It was way too much work; it was before we had children. You know life was happening, we got married, our priorities shifted. Oop, look, here's baby. I think it was six months into my pregnancy when a line cook didn't show up, and I had to go and work the grill that night, which was not a problem, but I was out to here. I looked at Howard, and I said, "It's not going to work." You have to stop there, if you see that. You have to stop, you can't juggle both.
We really evolved this project out of, I really love the pastry, I love the sweet, I love the croissant, and how can that work, knowing that I have a family, knowing that we want to be home for dinner. So now we have this. We have the kitchen in South Seattle that services the doughs for here, all the messy work, all the R & D.
Can you tell me a bit more about your culinary inspirations, about how young you were, and what inspired you?
Oh god, I was so young. My mom used to cook--she didn't work when I was growing up--she cooked all sorts of different foods. She tells the story, she was making a soufflé one day, and I decided to add my own special splash. I can't remember what it was. She said it was extra Grand Marnier. It was still good, but it was off. And from then on, she always had to watch, because she understood there was an extra set of hands. Whenever she baked, you know pies or cakes or cookies, she had an extra set of tins, child-size tins. There was some extra dough. I had my own area at home, a little rolling pin. As a mother, I think that's a great occupier, but it really instilled the love of it. I was very young, maybe six. I just loved it and it never really went away. I just keep tinkering and tinkering and it evolved into, 'This is what I am going to do'. You may as well love what you do, right? And so here I am.
Check back tomorrow for more of our conversation with Carolyn, including plans for her shop, and her favorite cheap and no-so-cheap restaurants.